North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper is ordering utility providers in the state to not cut off service to people who are unable to pay their bills amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"This action is particularly important since tomorrow is the first of the month and I know that's a date that many families fear when they can't make ends meet," Cooper said Tuesday afternoon when announcing the order.
The order specifies that electric, gas, water and wastewater services can't be shut off for the next two months. Cooper said telecommunications companies that provide phone and internet service are "strongly encouraged to follow these same rules," and the order also encourages banks not to charge overdraft fees, late fees and other penalties.
Several companies have already taken such measures, and Cooper said he commended them "for doing the right thing."
The order also tells utility providers to give customers at least six months to pay outstanding bills and prevents companies from collecting late fees.
Newly entered evictions have already been stopped in North Carolina, but Cooper and state Attorney General Josh Stein also encouraged landlords not to go through with evictions that were already filed.
Statewide orders have shuttered nonessential businesses, leading to mass layoffs particularly in the restaurant industry. Stein says more than 300,000 people in North Carolina have filed for unemployment in the last two weeks.
"We are encouraging landlords to work with their tenants, not evict them," Stein said. "We are encouraging banks and mortgage servicers to be flexible with homeowners and other borrowers.
North Carolina is under a statewide stay-at-home order, barring residents from going to jobs deemed nonessential and leaving their dwellings unless for things like getting health care, buying groceries and exercising outside.
The state Health and Human Services Department reported that, as of Tuesday, nearly 1,500 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, had been confirmed by testing in the state. Eight residents and one traveler have died in North Carolina from complications from the virus, and 157 people were hospitalized as of Tuesday.
It's important to note that not everyone who's sick is able to get tested. Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said Monday that she expected the coronavirus would be confirmed in all 100 North Carolina counties within days.
Cohen says that, based on reports from 84% of the state's hospitals, there are still about 7,000 empty hospital beds and 793 empty intensive-care beds. Those numbers don't include surge capacity – something Cohen said the state and hospital systems are working to broaden.
North Carolina is also working to build it supply of personal protective equipment and other essential gear for health care workers and trying to bolster coronavirus testing capacity.
Additionally, Cooper is calling in more members of the North Carolina National Guard to help get supplies where they're needed and says that the state is trying to figure out which facilities can be used as overflow hospitals.
More than 600 retired or former medical professionals have been authorized to work as medical volunteers. People interested in applying can do so via terms.ncem.org.
Additionally, Stein said, his office has received nearly 800 complaints about price gouging amid the crisis.
"We are reviewing each one," Stein said. "We will take legal action to hold to account anyone who is ripping people off."
Cooper's full order can be found here.
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